My first reaction when I visited the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Fla., was one of sheer amazement. I found myself in awe of the collection of mammoth paintings (about 15 feet by 15 feet) by the Flemish baroque master Peter Paul Rubens in the entry galleries. After I gasped at the Rubens collection, I continued to enjoy viewing the world class collection assembled by the legendary circus king, John Ringling.
The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art houses more than 10,000 objects of international art and antiques. Many of the collections derive from the 1936 bequest of John Ringling, including his mansion and summer residence called Cà d’Zan and art museum.
The art museum resides on the picturesque 66-acre Ringling estate on Sarasota Bay. It features not only the art collection but also an Italianate mansion featuring Venetian gothic architecture, jewel box theatre, circus memorabilia museum, manicured waterfront grounds, rose gardens named for Mabel Ringling and a visitors’ center. The 56-room mansion, which cost $1.5 million, was completed in 1925.
In 1931, the Ringling art museum opened to display works of art by masters including Velazquez, Veronese, El Greco and Gainsborough. The art museum features works of art from all of the major movements from the Renaissance to the present day. Baroque and Rococo art, Impressionism, American Realism and contemporary pieces are on display in both permanent collection galleries and temporary exhibition spaces.
The personal impact of the Ringling family — as art collectors, philanthropists and circus innovators — is evident in the adjacent Circus Museum which thrills visitors young and old alike. The main attraction is the Howard Bros. Circus Model, a replica of the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus. The replica displays 152 wagons, 1,300 circus performers and workers, 800 animals and a circus train. The replica is housed in the museum’s Tibbals Learning Center, named for model maker Howard Tibbals, and occupies 3,800 square feet.
Exhibitions relating to the history of the American circus are often installed at the museum. For instance, an exhibition called “The Amazing American Circus Poster” is currently on view. The exhibit focuses on original examples of the famous circus posters for Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey produced by the Strobridge Lithographing Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, dating from 1878 to 1939. Illustrations of the golden age of the American circus highlight the great double menagerie of exotic animals, not unlike those that accompanied Noah on his ark, and various circus performers showcase the heritage of the circus in the early 1900s.
For information about the Ringling Museum of Art and Circus Museum, visit www.ringling.org. Lori Verderame presents antique appraisal events nationwide. Watch “Dr. Lori” on “Auction Kings” on Discovery, visit www.DrLoriV.com or call 888-431-1010.